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December 02, 2008

Report Finds that Information Technology and Communications Sector can Help Reduce Climate Change
    by Robert Kropp

Study of information and communication technology concludes that ICT can be utilized to reduce carbon emissions across all sectors of global economy. -- In June, a report entitled "SMART 2020: Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age" concluded that the information and communication technology sector (ICT) could spearhead global emissions savings that represent a "significant proportion of the reductions below 1990 levels that scientists and economists recommend by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change."

The report found that "through enabling other sectors to reduce their emissions, the ICT industry could reduce global emissions by as much as 15 per cent by 2020 – a volume of CO2e five times its own footprint in 2020."

Visit the
Prospectus Ordering CenterCO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent)is the universal unit of measurement used to indicate the global warming potential of each of the six greenhouse gases.

The report was developed by The Climate Group, an international, non-profit organization whose goal is to help government and business set the world economy on the path to a low-carbon, prosperous future, on behalf of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), a group formed to further sustainable development in the ICT sector.

Because the United States poses both challenges and opportunities for the ambitious goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on behalf of GeSI developed a US-focused analysis, published in November.

According to Joan Krajewski, Senior Director of Compliance and Sustainability at Microsoft and Chair of the report's steering committee, "If you look at the opinions of the committee regarding climate change, there's not a lot of time left to turn the ship around. We can't rely on a free market economy to do it. Government intervention is necessary."

"The US represents a large part of carbon emissions, and lags behind Europe and Japan in the development of both overarching and targeted policies to address the problem," said Phillipp Jung, a partner and managing director at BCG.

The US report addendum advocates a number of opportunities for the implementation of ICT solutions to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, including incentives for utilities to invest in smart-grid technologies that could reduce CO2 emissions and save $15 billion to $35 billion in energy and fuel costs by 2020; investment in smart infrastructure for road transportation that could reduce travel time and congestion and save $65 billion to $115 billion; development of energy-efficient smart buildings that could save $40 billion to $50 billion; and encouragement of travel substitution through virtual meetings and flexible work arrangements that could save $20 billion to $40 billion.

The report finds that "the ICT industry also bears responsibility for reducing its own emissions." Through the development of data centers, increased PC efficiency, and telecommunication network and device efficiency, "the ICT industry recognizes both the symbolic and practical significance of reducing its own emissions and meets that challenge with continued innovation and technological breakthroughs."

The report clearly asserts that none of the improvements it advocates is possible without significant involvement by the federal government. Among the steps the US government should take, according to the report, include recognizing the role that the ICT sector can play in a national energy efficiency strategy; establishing a national "center of excellence" to develop standards for CO2 emissions and coordinate public-private collaboration; encouraging the " ubiquitous deployment and adoption of broadband;" and rewarding energy efficiency and reducing emissions by monetizing carbon dioxide emissions.

"Carbon monetization will play an important role in a market-based economy," said Jung of BCG.

"Overall, I must say I was surprised at the size of the opportunity that ICT presents for the reduction of carbon emissions," he added.

Krajewski of Microsoft envisions a leading role for the US in the global reduction of emissions. "We are home to a lot of non-carbon technology development. Furthermore, the US economy depends to a great extent on the service sector, where ICT can have a significant impact. We have the ability to emphasize different solutions to the problem of greenhouse emissions."

Jung cautioned against easy optimism when considering the possibility of such dramatic reductions of emissions. "Although we know the savings will be great in the long run, we don't yet know the price of implementing the smart grid recommended by the report. And how difficult will it be to align the many stakeholders to realize these savings?" he wondered.

Yet Krajewski finds cause for a cautious optimism. "If the new US administration does indeed appoint a Chief Technology Officer, that appointee could encourage more use of technology while playing a vital role in establishing national policies and strategies," she said.

Krajewski concluded, "We are eager to carry the findings of this report forward and work collaboratively with the new administration to develop ICT solutions to the problem of climate change."

The SMART 2020 report and its US addendum describe how the use of information and communication technology can contribute to a low carbon economy across all sectors of the global economy. Its findings envision practical solutions to the crisis of global climate change; as the report summary concludes, "It is now up to policy makers, industry leaders and the sector itself to make sure this potential is realized. The stakes couldn’t be higher."

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